Sunday, June 27, 2010

Letter: Solar Power in Colorado's San Luis Valley

In my post, "Going Solar Is Harder than It Looks, the San Luis Valley Finds," I linked to the NY Times article that talked about the differences between one of the utility's viewpoints (centralized concentrated solar power plant with high-voltage transmission) and the residents of the San Luis Valley (distributed generation). In the NY Times article the utility used a wealthy rancher as a scapegoat. Well, the rancher has responded with a letter to the editor in the same newspaper.

One of the solutions that the rancher came up with was, "to use existing transmission corridors and federally mandated corridors." I wonder if this is a viable option instead of creating a new path for transmission lines. Can anybody shed some light on this?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Xcel Energy Files to Reduce Colorado Solar Projects; Cites Concerns over Timing of Future Transmission

Bummer. Looks like I'm not going to get my wish for a concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in southern Colorado. I'm really torn on this San Luis Valley issue now. I've learned from a scientist at NREL before that we could power all of Colorado and then some by placing CSP plants on just 2% of the San Luis Valley. Just 2% (roughly 160 of the 8,000 sq. miles of the valley. That's a 13 x 13 mile plot!) of the land to reduce our carbon footprint immensely, rid ourselves of dirty coal emissions, and showcase to the world that Colorado powers itself with 100% renewable energy. However, these CSP plants are water intensive and need new high voltage transmission lines built over the hill for many miles to the load centers on the Front Range. I'll be frank, large high-voltage power transmission lines are unattractive. If I lived in the beautiful San Luis Valley I probably wouldn't want them. But would I think about compromising to have a large majority of our power produced from the clean and free sun?

Then there's the distributed generation (DG) folks who make a good case for solar PV or thermal on rooftops in the valley and around Colorado. Putting solar rooftops on every residential and commercial building would go along way to lessening the environmental impact and the need for high-voltage transmission lines, but I believe (no facts to back this up yet), doing it piece meal like that wouldn't be as cost-effective (unless economies of scale kicked in at some point) and wouldn't provide nearly as much wattage as a CSP plant on 2% of the land in the San Luis Valley.

I don't know what the answer is. I imagine that it all depends on how quickly we have to get off of fossil fuels. Let's hope we come to some type of compromise sometime soon.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Wind Power Out West Gets a Boost

We've been led to believe that one of the biggest problems with wind power is that the wind is intermittent and unsuitable for our current power grid. In addition, wind sometimes gets a bad rap as a replacement for coal. Well, the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) has just released a study (Western Wind and Solar Integration Study) that essentially says, "that the power grid for five western states could operate on as much as 30 percent wind and 5 percent solar without the construction of extensive new infrastructure or a lot of backup generation." That's good news for wind and now gives a bit more incentive to wind farm financiers and developers. Thanks for NREL and its ability to bring in reason and fact to our energy debate.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Going Solar Is Harder Than It Looks, the San Luis Valley Finds

Good article from the Alamosa Journal via the NY Times on the challenges inherent in trying to capture the sun's energy in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado and then transport it over the "hill" to the giant load center on the Front Range. Even though it's easy to lay the blame on some billionaire that doesn't want a high voltage transmission line running across his property, we also have to look at the people who live in the valley and are fighting for a distributed power generation model. I have a feeling that we aren't going to see a concentrated solar power plant in the San Luis Valley anytime soon. So let's hope all the players come to the table and work out a viable option to move Colorado towards more renewable energy.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Obama Says Oil Spill Highlights Need for Renewable Energy

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
- Albert Einstein

What has been going on in the Gulf of Mexico for the last month or so is sickening to me. Sickening in the environmental sense of course. But I am more sickened by our rabid addiction to oil. We of course use the most of our petroleum products in the gas tanks of our cars and trucks to get ourselves to the grocery store, or the shopping mall, or kid's soccer practice, as well as to transport our produce, furniture, building materials, and general crap. There's also the facts that plastics are petroleum based. Think about how much plastic you have in your home right now! Gobs and gobs. I could go on but I think you get the idea. We are addicted to oil and our economy depends on it. And if the oil gushing out of the gash at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico isn't a siren, we are in for a long, hard slog. Our consumption of the black gold is unsustainable.

So President Obama had the courage to call for more renewable energy - in the midst of a horrible and deep recession, at least 10% unemployment, fighting two wars, a growing national debt, social security running dry, 401Ks decimated for those close to retirement, and what I think will be the greatest man-made environmental disaster the world has ever experienced. I can hear the naysayers, "We can't afford to invest in renewable energy, when there are so other many problems to tackle," or they might say, "We have to let the free market dictate the future of renewable energy." You know who they are.

There are many paths to more renewable energy, the free market included, but I don't think we have the luxury of time to let large corporations and the "free market" decide our fate. BP, a large global corporation, has already begun to destroy the water and coastal ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico trying to feed our addiction to oil and to feed their burgeoning wallets. The big U.S. bank corporations (you know "too big to fail") have already destroyed the global economy and refuse to stop practicing the speculation that got us into this trouble. That's not a really good track record for entities that can have an enormous and tragic affect on our lives. I suppose we will continue to see these economic and environmental disasters as long as there is this insatiable, unsustainable drive for more profits. In the name of profit and the quarterly Wall Street kabuki dance, corners will always be cut, jobs will lost, lives will be lost, and greed will win the day. Is this really who we want to be?

I don't know about you but I want solar photovoltaic modules on my house generating clean electricity from the sun rather than getting my electricity from a coal-fired power plant miles away. But I need help, because I can't afford to do these things right now with the unstable economy and I need help because we don't have the luxury of time (just Google "pine beetle kill" for just one example of the affect of a changing climate on Colorado forests) to let the market decide when the price of solar PV is going to be cheaper than coal.

So, if Einstein is correct, we are going to have to develop new ways of thinking to solve our problem of addiction to oil and any other unsustainable activity we humans like to practice. Do we have the courage to think differently?

Wishful Thinking

*Before adding PV, wind, or solar thermal to your residential or commercial structure, the first step is to analyze this structure's energy consumption through a professional energy audit. I'd like to see some public education on the importance of an energy audit for any structure. Remember Smokey the Bear's forest fire shtick drilled into our heads over the last few decades? How about something like, "Henry the House" desperately wanting to know how much energy he consumes and wastes throughout the day?

*With over 300 sunny days a year on the Front Range is it too much to ask for solar PV and thermal modules on every residential and commercial unit (after an energy audit of course)?

*How about affordable plug-in electric cars that go more than 100 miles on a charge with PV and wind powered recharging stations?

*Dreaming of companies large and small adopting business sustainability practices to maximize profits, reduce their carbon footprint, and enhance the lives of their employees and the communities that surround them.


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